A day in the life of Referrals Officer Michelle

Matching foster children to foster families is a key part of the fostering process. At Unity Foster Care, our Referrals Officer Michelle’s role is to carry out this incredibly important task.

We caught up with Michelle to find out more about what a typical working day for her involves…

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Michelle, and I am Unity Foster Care’s Referrals Officer. I live with my husband and two daughters. When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Prior to my role at Unity, I previously worked within Burger King’s management team, as an Operations Trainer. After being made redundant, I worked for Best Training, which involved trying to help the unemployed get employment.

After becoming a mum, I worked part time at Asda for seven years. I trained up to be a Section Leader for home shopping, but it didn’t mix with my family life. During the covid-19 pandemic, I decided to change career paths and found a job with Unity Foster Care. I started off doing annual reviews for foster carers, which involved preparing foster carer portfolios for both Panel and reviewing officers. I would also take minutes for panel.

Now, I am a Referrals Officer, which means matching foster children to foster families.

What does your role involve?

When a referral comes through from a local authority, I look at the age ranges and location to see if we have a foster carer who would match. I then consider things like the child’s emotional and behavioural needs. There are also other points to think about, should as how the child would be transported to and from school, any hobbies and activities they have, are they outdoorsy for example like the fostering family. It’s all about asking the right questions to make sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.

When I think I have a match, I discuss it with the supervising social worker and the foster carer in mind. I put any additional questions to the local authority, and then I arrange a meeting between the child’s social worker and supervising social worker to get a better picture of what they need within their care. Once a match has been agreed upon, I formerly put an offer to the Local Authority. If the match is accepted by them, then a transition can be planned. This can be over a couple of days or weeks, but if it’s an emergency then it could be on the day.

I usually check in for the first week or two after a child has been placed, especially if a carer needs any advice.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually begin my mornings by looking through outstanding emails e.g. referrals that haven’t yet been looked at, to see if there are any matches. I also create a to-do list, which can vary depending on how many referrals we have. There tends to be around 100 children referred per day.

I then usually chase up the local authority for any unanswered questions or to confirm a child’s moving date.

When it comes to creating a match, knowing the foster carer and their household dynamic is important; this happens with time and experience. I have very positive relationships with our foster carers and feel honoured that they share this information with me.

The carer availability varies, and I try to work in advance, where possible. It takes good communication to be aware of what’s happening, as well as strong organisational skills. I fel this is a particular strength of mine as I am very organised and like to know what is happening

When I am not working, I hand over to the on-duty social worker, but I try to see referrals through from start to finish, where possible. I love the feeling of matching a child with a foster carer, it is very exciting.

What’s the most challenging thing about your role?

Being organised, asking the right questions, and gathering all the information needed to make a good match can be challenging. It can also be emotionally challenging to read about some of the things children have gone through, prior to being in care.

What’s the best thing about your role?

Every day is different, and it’s really rewarding to play a part in helping a child in need.

Any positive stories to share?

Recently, we had a parent and child move on, with no legal status required, so the mum has succeeded in being confident in providing care for her child. We also recently saw several children go through university. Sometimes, it can even be a challenge for foster children to go to school, so every achievement is worth celebrating.

Any advice for someone considering fostering?

Ask as many questions as you feel necessary to get a better picture of what is expected of you as a foster carer. If a question is in your head, just ask it!

Just be yourself we all have strengths and weaknesses

Could you make a difference to the lives of children and young people in your area?

Our friendly team are on hand to answer any questions you may have. To make a start on your application, call us on 0333 772 2333 or contact us online and we’ll be in touch.